Smaller Classes, Fewer Librarians

New report from parents shows some Liberal policies working, but overall funding gap continues to result in cuts – People for Education

A new report released today shows that while class sizes are smaller in elementary schools and there are fewer students on waiting lists for special education this year, schools, students and parents continue to lose valuable programs.

“We’re sitting here today in this beautiful Design and Tech shop,” said Annie Kidder, Executive Director of the provincial parents’ research group People for Education. “It’s equipped with the machinery, the tools and the technology, but it is missing the one thing it needs to operate: funding. All across the province Design and Tech rooms like this one are closed because there is no funding for the teachers to teach in them and no funding for the heat and light to keep them open.”

The People for Education Annual Report on Elementary Schools makes direct links between government policy and its effect on Ontario’s schools.

* New government funding to reduce class size has resulted in an overall decline in the number of very large classes in elementary schools and, in primary grades, 36% of Kindergarten to Grade 3 classes now have 20 students or fewer.
* While the percentage of schools with music and physical education teachers remains well below 1997/98 levels, there has been no drop in the percentage of schools with these specialists since last year. The group expects to see an improvement in these numbers next year when new specialist teacher funding is in place.
* This year the province will introduce policy requiring schools to provide students with at least 20 minutes of physical activity per day. Presently, schools with specialist physical education teachers are more likely to have more than 100 minutes per week of physical activity.
* Only 6% of senior elementary schools had Design and Technology teachers, a 76% drop since 1998/99.
* There are now 39,000 students on waiting lists for special education services, the first drop since the group began tracking, but numbers on waiting lists remain 15% higher than in 1999/00.
* The areas with the highest percentage of special education students are the least likely to have regular access to psychologists.
* Schools continue to lose teacher-librarians – a 33% decline since 1997/98.
* Despite increased funding for ESL programs and despite an increase in the number of new immigrants to Ontario, the percentage of schools with ESL teachers has declined again this year. In 1998/99, 41% of schools had ESL teachers; this year only 27% had this specialized staff.
* New government policy on community use of schools has resulted in a dramatic increase in the percentage of schools reporting a reduction in the amounts charged to community groups for access to school buildings. Nearly every school board has signed agreements with the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation to provide community access at reduced rates to non-profit community groups.

Elena Aleinikov, principal of Lord Lansdowne Senior Elementary School where the report was released, talked about the loss of the Design and Technology program and its effect on students. “It’s as if we’re saying to students, technology is not important and working in tech jobs is somehow a second class occupation. For many students these programs keep them interested, keep them in school and provide a pathway to success in secondary school.”

“Our reports have documented many changed over the last eight years, and our research has contributed to some positive improvements,” said People for Education research analyst Gay Stephenson. “Eight years is a long time. Long enough for a child who started kindergarten in 1997 to be graduating from grade six this year. The goal of our work is to improve our children’s schools so that they can give every child a chance to succeed.”

While the report highlights a number of improvements in the system, it also emphasizes that an ongoing funding gap continues to cause problems for school boards.

Because there were few, if any, funding increases between 1997 and 2003, many of the funding allocations (referred to as benchmarks) set in the funding formula do not match what things actually cost.

Although the province has provided boards with 2% increases in funding, for both salary and non-salary costs the last two years in a row, there is still a gap between the actual cost of staff and the amount of money the province provides to pay for them.

Boards receive approximately $6,000 less per teacher, secretary, or principal, than boards actually pay. And in many boards this gap between what things actually cost, and the benchmarks set in the funding formula, remains at approximately 10%.

In 2003, Dr. Mordechai Rozanski recommended closing the funding gap with $674 million funding to update all the benchmarks in the formula. This recommendation has not been implemented.

The report includes a number of recommendations, and was delivered to the province on Monday.